MOT testing rules – with coronavirus updates

mechanic man with face mask

The last major overhaul of MOT testing rules took place in 2018, but the onset of coronavirus has had a significant impact on the UK industry since then.

In this article, we will talk about:

Which vehicles need an MOT?

The MOT certificate is an annual legal requirement for any vehicle that is between three and forty years old. The lower tier is four years old in Northern Ireland. In some instances, vehicles over 40 years old still require an MOT, including heavily modified or kit cars.

Some vehicles are exempt from an annual MOT. These include those classed as SORN, tractors, and electric powered goods vehicles registered before 1st March 2015.

Lorries, buses and trailers are also exempt but must undertake a separate annual test instead.

How do I become an MOT tester?

To become an authorised MOT tester, you must:

  • Meet the eligibility rules
  • Pass a qualification course
  • Pass a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) MOT demonstration test

You will then receive further training and testing each year after you have qualified. The GOV.UK website spells out how to become an MOT tester.

What changes have happened to MOTs recently?

In 2018, the government updated the MOT test to include new rules.

In addition to Pass or Fail ratings, new fault categories – Minor, Major and Dangerous – were added to the MOT test. Any vehicle with a Major or Dangerous fault automatically fails its MOT, and is therefore deemed unroadworthy. Anybody driving a vehicle with such faults could receive a fine up to £2,500, three penalty points, and a ban.

MOT category definitions

Let’s take a look at what each category on the MOT test now means:

  • Pass – The vehicle meets the minimum legal standard.
  • Advisory – A fault has been identified, which could become more severe in the future. This should be monitored and eventually repaired.
  • Minor – A fault has been identified, but there is no significant effect on the safety of the vehicle, the driver or the impact on the environment. A repair is recommended as soon as possible.
  • Major – A fault has been identified, and it should be repaired immediately. This fault may affect the driver’s safety, put other people at risk, or impact the environment. A major fault means the vehicle will fail the MOT if the defect is not repaired.
  • Dangerous – A serious fault or issue has been found that would cause immediate risk to road safety or impact on the environment. A dangerous fault means the vehicle will fail the MOT and is prohibited from being driven until the item is repaired.

In addition to new categories, several items were added to the MOT test, including:

  • Checking for underinflated tyres.
  • Checking reversing lights to ensure they are all functional (on vehicles first used from 1st September 2009).
  • Testing the headlight washers where fitted (on vehicles first used from 1st September 2009).
  • Checking for contaminated brake fluid.
  • Judging whether any fluid has leaked and if it might pose an environmental risk.
  • Checking daytime running lights on vehicles first used from 1st March 2018 (due for first MOTs in 2021).

Rules for Diesel emissions

Stricter rules were also implemented on diesel emissions. Cars fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) projecting visible smoke during testing automatically fail their MOT. The DPF needs to be removed from the vehicle for examination by the tester. If it is found to be tampered with, this is also an MOT test fail.

Finally, the MOT certificate itself changed to display the new defect types.

Coronavirus and MOT testing

The ongoing global health crisis has disrupted many MOT tests throughout the UK.

Across the country, MOT tests were suspended during the first nationwide lockdown, before tests resumed on 1st August 2020.

Vehicles due for MOT from 30th March-31st July 2020 in England, Wales and Scotland had a six-month extension automatically applied to their MOT. This means a vehicle due to be tested on 31st July 2020 would now have its MOT renewal on 31st January 2021.

These changes have created headaches for garages, who have seen a substantial rise in demand for MOT tests. Not only have MOT testers had to book in the vehicles usually due for testing from October 2020 onwards, they have also had to accommodate vehicles that would normally be due earlier in the year.

In Northern Ireland, this extension became one year as of May 2020, to avoid a rush at testing stations from October onwards.

During the second lockdown in England in November 2020, MOT tests are continuing as normal. Garage Wire reports that a second extension to MOT expiry dates is unlikely.

How can my garage prepare for demand in MOT tests?

As more tests are now due in October, November, December and January across England, Wales and Scotland, garages should:

  • Encourage customers to take their MOT test early if possible. MOT tests taken within a month (minus one day) of their renewal date retain the original renewal date. This also gives time for repairs to be undertaken if needed.
  • Offer advice to customers to maintain their vehicles. Educating vehicle owners on obvious issues, such as headlamp adjustment, windscreen wipers, fluid levels (including screen wash) and tyre tread depths, reduces the chance of issues at MOT. It also helps ensure vehicle safety year-round. The impartial Money Advice Service offers useful advice on preparing a vehicle for MOT.
  • Get vehicles serviced regularly. Make sure customers maintain a good service schedule for their vehicles. April to August could be a good time to encourage customers to get a full service or sort out any issues with their vehicles at your garage. Again, this should help reduce the chances of MOT failure and allow for more efficient testing at busier times.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) reported an extra 310,000 MOTs and retests than usual were carried out in August 2020.

Following the above advice can help to smooth out your workload throughout the year.

What extra precautions need to be taken with MOTs during coronavirus?

In addition to the now-standard social distancing practices and wearing of face masks where appropriate, extra care should be taken to wipe all exposed surfaces on a vehicle – dashboard, mirrors, steering wheel, door handles, switchgear, and seats, for example. This should be done before and after the MOT test, to minimise any chance of contact with the virus.


  • Can I stop customers from driving a vehicle that has failed the MOT test?

You should not allow customers to drive away a vehicle that has failed an MOT test with dangerous defects. However, you cannot impound a vehicle against the will of your customer. They are within their rights to get the vehicle towed elsewhere for work to be carried out, for example.

  • Can I offer a pick-up and drop-off service for customers during the coronavirus outbreak?

It is possible to do this if you are adequately insured with a road risks policy that allows for vehicle collection and delivery. Please consult with us if you are unsure about your motor trade insurance policy.

  • Am I eligible to be an MOT tester?

To become an MOT tester, you will need a full current driving licence for the type of vehicle you are testing. You’ll also have to be an experienced mechanic with four years’ minimum full-time employment in service and repairing vehicles you are working on. Other criteria apply. The latest government advice on this is available here.